DAVENPORT, Iowa — Agriculture legislation known as the “Farm Bill”, scheduled to expire at the end of September, is one of the top issues on the presidential campaign trail in the Midwest state of Iowa. Continued drought conditions, and lack of action by legislators on renewing Farm Bill legislation, could influence voters when they head to the polls in November.
A lack of rain and scorching temperatures are taking a toll on eastern Iowa farmer Robb Ewoldt.
On his farm outside Davenport, a creek bed usually flowing with water is almost completely dried up. His grazing pastures are so bare he has to bring in hay and water daily to keep his cows fed.
To make matters worse, some of his corn crop has wilted, and Ewoldt is worried that low supply and high prices will impact other parts of his farming operation. “The hog operations are going to be really hurting because they need to feed corn. The poultry is really going to be in a squeeze because that’s all a chicken will eat is corn. And a dairy guy has to feed corn to get his cows to produce a lot of corn," he said.
While campaigning in Iowa, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. government would buy up to $170 million worth of pork, chicken, and lamb to help those producers affected by the drought. Ewoldt views the announcement as a political maneuver.
“In the short run it’s going to help us, but to sustain us through what were going to see over the next eight to ten months in these crop prices and our input costs for livestock, it’s not going to do much at all," he said.
Ewoldt says what would help are certain benefits provided by the Farm Bill, such as crop insurance. He wants the legislation renewed before it expires to help provide a sense of security amid the drought. “We’re tired of the gridlock. We’re tired of hearing that the Congress, the House and Senate are all locked up, and there’s so much - everybody’s so divided," he said.
“In this part of the country especially, they feel very disconnected from Washington," said Augustana College Political Science Professor Christopher Whitt. He said in Iowa, the drought could determine the November election. “The ways in which the people from the two parties either respond or didn’t respond to the drought, would be a game changer.”
Oklahoma Republican Congressman Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, hopes lawmakers visiting their districts during the recess will see the impact of the drought, and act to pass the Farm Bill. “I’m counting on farmers and ranchers across the country who are impacted by the drought to remind their members of Congress, that’s what constituents do a wonderful job of, to work with committee to get the job done," he said.
“Hopefully we can get by this bickering and let’s get it done, and let’s do what’s best for the country not what’s best for the parties," said Ewoldt.
In the meantime, what would be best for Ewoldt is more rain, to get the water running through his creek again, and to help the grass grow in his pastures so his cows can eat on their own, without his help.